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Old 01-13-2013, 09:53 PM   #71
Johnny1A.2
 
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Originally Posted by quarkstomper View Post
Keep in mind that Tolkien never finished the Silmarillion, and part of the reason for that was he had trouble working out the inconsistancies himself. After his death his son Christopher took the unfinished bits and pieces he wrote about the First Age and tried to work them into something which more or less hangs together, sometimes writing material himself based on his father's notes.

But you are right that Tolkien was trying to create something like the sagas of old. His original intention was to create a "National Epic" for England, the way Virgil's Aeneid is the National Epic of the Founding of Rome, or Kalevala is the National Epic of Finland; but along the way the story became less about England and more about elves.
That's partly because the nature of the Silmarillion changed over the years, too. If the Silmarillion is conceived of as a collection of legends from early England, or the equivalent of such, then things like the Ages of the Stars and the flat earth cosmology are fine, poetically powerful and not out-of-character for such stories.

The problem arose when the story mutated into the LOTR, that is, a 'realistic' prose novel set in the real world, albeit in an imaginary time. JRRT emphasized this point several times in his correspondence, the setting of the LOTR is the actual physical Earth, specifically the northwestern region of the Old World (i.e. Europe and the edges of Asia/Africa) in the distant past (as Men think of 'distant past'.)

The problem is that this makes the LOTR almost an example of science fiction, or something akin to it. Where most SF is set in an imaginary future of our real world, the LOTR is set in an imagary past of that same real world. This constrains things in several ways, some subtle, some blatant.

For ex, if the Silmariilion is seen as actual history of that same world set further in the past, then suddenly the Ages of the Stars become effectively impossible. Though it is poetically powerful, a world without the Sun where Elves lived and ate and breathed for millennia in the dark lit only by the stars...well, the air itself would be frozen solid. Elves may be immortal, but they still have to eat and drink and breathe, and then there's the issue of plants and animals. Even Morgoth's monsters need sustenance (other than the pure-spirit things).

So what is the Silmarillion? The 'flat-earth' version can't be the real history of the real world, obviously. Further, since the Silmarillion is supposedly of Elvish origin, the theory that it's old, distorted legends doesn't work either. The Elves can remember those days, and the Valar/Maiar can remember all the way back to the Beginning, so the High Elven histories and the like ought to be pretty accurate.

JRRT tried to rework the Silmarillion to create versions that fit reality better, but never entirely succeeded (though I think given more time, and if his strength had not been failing with age, he might eventually have pulled it off). Eventually I think he concluded that the Silmarillion ought to be seen as Elvish in origin but having been handed down through generations of Men and distorted, changed, added to and subtracted from, etc in the years since the Elves left.

Within the tale, I always took it that the three books of Elvish legends that Bilbo translated and compiled and gave to Frodo was supposed to be the means by which the Silmarillion pasted into mortal hands.
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Old 01-13-2013, 10:22 PM   #72
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The problem is that this makes the LOTR almost an example of science fiction, or something akin to it. Where most SF is set in an imaginary future of our real world, the LOTR is set in an imagary past of that same real world.
I think it can certainly be read as linguistic science fiction: It puts forth an imaginary linguistic family and its evolution in the same way that a more conventional sf writer might put forth an imaginary planet or alien race. (The author of The Last Ringbearer seems to take it that way, saying that LotR is set in a secondary universe more convincing that, say, Dune's Arrakis by far.)

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For ex, if the Silmariilion is seen as actual history of that same world set further in the past, then suddenly the Ages of the Stars become effectively impossible. Though it is poetically powerful, a world without the Sun where Elves lived and ate and breathed for millennia in the dark lit only by the stars...well, the air itself would be frozen solid. Elves may be immortal, but they still have to eat and drink and breathe, and then there's the issue of plants and animals. Even Morgoth's monsters need sustenance (other than the pure-spirit things).

So what is the Silmarillion? The 'flat-earth' version can't be the real history of the real world, obviously. Further, since the Silmarillion is supposedly of Elvish origin, the theory that it's old, distorted legends doesn't work either. The Elves can remember those days, and the Valar/Maiar can remember all the way back to the Beginning, so the High Elven histories and the like ought to be pretty accurate.
I took the Silmarillion to be literally true, and to be an accurate account of a world whose history included the radical alteration of natural law. Before the Downfall, even thermodynamics and mechanics had different laws.

William Blake hints at a similar transformation in "The Mental Traveller" (For the eye altering alters all:/The senses roll themselves in fear,/And the flat Earth becomes a ball;/The stars, sun, moon all shrink away,/A desert vast without a bound) and in the poem that introduces one part of Jerusalem (Albion gave his deadly groan/And all the Atlantic mountains shook). Though in Blake the transformation is caused by the narrowing of human vision, which in Tolkien is an effect.

When I ran Under the Shadow, I gave elves the power to see over the horizon. Their vision was not constrained by the curvature of the earth, for the same reason that they could sail on the Straight Road. It struck me as kind of a neat metaphor for the ability of immortal elves to look ahead to the all too near winding up of the cosmos, whereas mortal men could only see to the horizon of their own mortality. . . .

But Tolkien seems to have wanted a more naturalistic cosmology later in his life. I'm not sure one could be created out of what he wrote in his earlier legendarium, though.

Bill Stoddard
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Old 01-13-2013, 10:55 PM   #73
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But Tolkien seems to have wanted a more naturalistic cosmology later in his life. I'm not sure one could be created out of what he wrote in his earlier legendarium, though.

Bill Stoddard
It could be done, though it would require an extensive rewrite. JRRT had already done extensive rewrites, for that matter, his earliest versions of the Silmarillion bear only a modest resemblance to what came later.

As for a naturalistic cosmology, any story set in the real world risks losing some of its 'believability' as strangeness piles upon strangeness, and the more such strangeness the more potential for contradictions and conflicts, and the more difficult it becomes to hold it all together.
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Old 01-14-2013, 12:41 AM   #74
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3042 years. If Atlantis fell 11,000 BCE, that would means the start of the Fourth Age would be 7,958 BCE.

But that does not leave room for the Woses or Púkel-men. If they were Neanderthals, they would have died off some 30,000 years ago, making the start of the Fourth Age before then.
It is more than safe to say that in the world that has Middle Earth as their prehistory, the paleontological reconstruction of their past is massively wrong.
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Old 01-14-2013, 02:31 AM   #75
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It is more than safe to say that in the world that has Middle Earth as their prehistory, the paleontological reconstruction of their past is massively wrong.
Well, if it a secondary Universe and not our world, they may have, in fact got it correct. If it is actually our own, then we do. Of course we're all pretty certain Middle-Earth is fiction. Still, Tolkein knew enough actual history to know it couldn't be our world, I think the problem was, he thought the only alternative could be Faerie, or the lands of the Norse Gods or something. I don't think it ever seemed like it could be an alternate universe or different planet about another star. He may have lacked that conceptual frame. He was born in the 19th century instead of the 20th, after all.
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Old 01-14-2013, 06:05 AM   #76
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Well, if it a secondary Universe and not our world, they may have, in fact got it correct. If it is actually our own, then we do. Of course we're all pretty certain Middle-Earth is fiction. Still, Tolkein knew enough actual history to know it couldn't be our world, I think the problem was, he thought the only alternative could be Faerie, or the lands of the Norse Gods or something. I don't think it ever seemed like it could be an alternate universe or different planet about another star. He may have lacked that conceptual frame. He was born in the 19th century instead of the 20th, after all.


This gets at what I meant about 'mythic time.'
I think that Middle –Earth is a secondary world, a sub-creation. In some sense it is very much a real place, because it connects to our myths. It has real ties to the world we live in, and in some sense 'is' the Old World of a mythic past age. But we can't reach it except in our imaginations. A time machine, if something like that were possible, wouldn’t get there in linear time. Middle Earth exists in the same 'a long time ago' that fairy tales exist in, not in the Pleistocene or whatever. That it has an internal chronology does not necessarily mean that such a chronology can be –or need be—reconciled with what scientists think or guess about our world’s “real” past.
But YMMV.
Tolkien’s own ‘mileage’ seemed to vary over time, judging by what I have read.

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Old 01-14-2013, 09:29 AM   #77
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Well, if it a secondary Universe and not our world, they may have, in fact got it correct.
But Tolkien didn't go with that secondary universe junk. Really nobody did back then.
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Old 01-14-2013, 09:43 AM   #78
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Default Re: Fourth Age of Middle Earth gaming

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This gets at what I meant about 'mythic time.'
I think that Middle –Earth is a secondary world, a sub-creation. In some sense it is very much a real place, because it connects to our myths. It has real ties to the world we live in, and in some sense 'is' the Old World of a mythic past age. But we can't reach it except in our imaginations. A time machine, if something like that were possible, wouldn’t get there in linear time. Middle Earth exists in the same 'a long time ago' that fairy tales exist in, not in the Pleistocene or whatever. That it has an internal chronology does not necessarily mean that such a chronology can be –or need be—reconciled with what scientists think or guess about our world’s “real” past.
But YMMV.
Tolkien’s own ‘mileage’ seemed to vary over time, judging by what I have read.
Whereas R.E. Howard's short stories are explicitly said to be in this world, only a long, long time ago. They are two different approach.
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Old 01-14-2013, 09:54 AM   #79
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But Tolkien didn't go with that secondary universe junk. Really nobody did back then.
Tolkien explicitly used the phrase "Secondary World" in his essay "On Fairy Stories." But he didn't mean an alternate history or a parallel world or even an alternate universe such as Narnia. He meant a fictional world that existed in the imagination of a human being. That's why it was "secondary" and not "parallel."

But he also used the fictional device of saying, "This story is taken from a historical document left by participants in its events." This was a common framing device in fiction of many sorts; Mary Shelley used it in Frankenstein, for example, and epistolary novels such as Les liaisons dangéreuses were effectively doing the same thing. And a lot of fantasy, in the days when archaeological knowledge was less advanced, used the device of setting a story in the remote past to suspend disbelief in magic and monsters.

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Old 01-14-2013, 10:17 AM   #80
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Whereas R.E. Howard's short stories are explicitly said to be in this world, only a long, long time ago. They are two different approach.
Right. I think it's significant that REH actually provided a geologic time period for his Hyborian Age and drew connections between the various nations of the latter Hyborian Age and the peoples of our Antiquity.



Tolkien does nothing like that, really. He hints at echoes and survivals of Middle Earth in our world, but there’s little information given to place the first four ages of Arda in the framework of geologic time. I don't think that's an oversight. I don't think Tolkien was worried about making his sub-creation agree with materialist 'scientific' notions of the Earth's physical development or of paleoanthropology.
We might just as well ask how his sub-creation meshes with the account of the world’s creation and early history in Genesis. Indeed, that might be more important in some ways.
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